Horton says it well and memorably: “The key to maturity is time and community” (64). Our impulse for the extraordinary, however, fuels a desire for quick growth which in turn draws us away from community; at least, a community to which we commit ourselves for any length of time.
The Restless Generation
It’s become a truism to say that millennials are the restless generation: they jump from job to job, city to city, and church to church. Something new, something bigger, something more exciting is only a airplane flight or road trip away, and they would be foolish not to pursue it. But this approach to life hasn’t made our restless souls any happier. “[I]s it any wonder,” Horton ponders, “that we’re miserable if we don’t care about things that take time, require submission to a community, and do not yield immediate and measurable results” (65)?
A sustainable Christian life is one that is characterized by steady faithfulness. And this faithfulness will be built upon the theological foundation of God’s ordinary providence. Although God created the universe ex nihilo, he designed our world in such a way that living things–plants, animals, humans–propagate through the ordinary means of reproduction. God provides our daily bread through our daily work and the contribution of “farmers and bakers and warehouse employees and truck drivers and shop clerks, and so on” (142).
God’s Work and Our Work
God reaches down with miracles, to be sure, but it is primarily the normal processes of secondary causation by which God oversees and directs the created order. When we grasp this important truth about how God works, we will approach our work with renewed satisfaction and purpose. Horton reminds us that, “Once we recover a greater sense of God’s ordinary vocation as the site of his faithfulness, we will begin to appreciate our own calling to love and serve others in his name in everyday ways that make a real difference in people’s lives” (142). A real difference. Ironically, it is by keeping oneself in a specific place for a long period of time that millennials will fulfill their desire to “make their life count.” Sadly, their anxious wandering may actually end up subverting their noble intentions.
Even the Reformers warned against this kind of restlessness. Although Luther, Calvin, and other Reformed preachers promoted vocational excellence and were catalysts for opening “new doors of literacy and learning that were previously unavailable to many, including women,” (96) they also reminded people that limitations are a gift from our Creator. Yes, the Reformers encouraged men and women to make wise use of opportunities to improve their lives. “Yet,” Horton explains, “they discouraged ‘wandering stars’ as Calvin often referred to the restless souls who were never content with their calling and circumstances in life” (96).
When we are dissatisfied with the ordinary, daily, long-term commitment that keeps us in one place for longer than eighteen months, we won’t be likely to cultivate steadiness or faithfulness. Globe-trotting millennials may think they are having a great time now, but I fear they will learn, over the next ten to twenty years, that their unwillingness to settle into long-term commitments–with their work, with a spouse, and with the local church–actually proved to weaken their character and dilute their influence. The pattern is typically this: steady, ordinary, mundane faithfulness now; profound impact and opportunity later. Sadly, for significant number of millennials, the reversal of this pattern will most likely mean long-term spiritual and relational loss.
Tomorrow we will see that a sustainable Christian life requires that we love those around us.